ECM debut for Michael Formanek, whose formidable bass has propelled groups from the Mingus Big Band to Tim Berne’s Bloodcount and has backed artists as diverse as Chet Baker and Elvis Costello. A bandleader and composer in his own right, he is heard here with some highly-talented colleagues in an outgoing programme of his own pieces, whose unorthodox constructions set up strong solos and fiery group interaction.
Three hyper-progressive improvisational jazz and cross-genre artists push the envelope again on their 2nd album for Cuneiform Records. The musicians' busy schedules via numerous and largely prolific solo and group-based projects have rocketed their respective artistries into the limelight, especially ECM recording artist Michael Formanek (bass) who for the past several decades has become a household name within these circles. Nonetheless, it's an adventurous exploration, led by guitarist Mary Halvorson's signature phraseology, comprised of extended lines that vaporize into the cosmos amid her diminutive note-bending jaunts and so on. Here, drummer Tomas Fujiwara generates a buoyant underpinning with colorful accents in parallel with Formanek's fluid and powerful support.
The Distance represents a grand creative leap for bassist-composer Michael Formanek, following two widely lauded ECM releases featuring his quartet with Tim Berne, Craig Taborn and Gerald Cleaver. The new album showcases his texturally rich compositions for the dynamic 18-piece big band he has playfully dubbed Ensemble Kolossus. The project saw some of the most distinctive musicians on the New York scene bonding to realize Formanek’s epic design, as he re-imagined what a big band can be. Channelling sounds from the classic to the modern, he also composed for individually expressive soloists in the Ellingtonian tradition. Along with the dark-hued romanticism of the title track, The Distance features the “Exoskeleton” suite – a kaleidoscopic musical experience in which Formanek’s bold, beautiful vision for 21st-century large-ensemble jazz comes vibrantly to life.
Small Places is double bassist/composer Michael Formanek’s follow-up to “The Rub and Spare Change”, his widely lauded ECM debut as a leader. If anything, Small Places is a step beyond this quartet’s first release, with the compositions and improvisation blending so seamlessly that a listener is scarcely able to tell where one leaves off and the other begins. Earthy yet atmospheric, this is very 21st-century American jazz, the music brimming with piquant riffs and muscular ostinatos, rich in melodic possibility and the sound of surprise.
This isn’t the best recording of The Piano Concerto. Despite the fact that, for me at least, John Lenehan has always been the definitive Nyman pianist other than the composer himself, Stott’s interpretation has more vigour and Lawson’s more musicality. Lenehan’s performance is also muddied by the recording’s vague acoustic, a particularly telling problem for die-hard Nymaniacs who have grown up with the crisp, punchy, quasi-rock production style entirely appropriate to Nyman’s music and a trademark since his work with David Cunningham in the early 1980s.